Higgs (Boson) Meets Hips

A physicist studying the motion of matter’s tiniest particles and a choreographer studying the motion of people across a stage discovered a common language—and unlocked the secret artistry behind scientist-speak.

The pair shared that discovery on Wednesday afternoon at the Yale Center For British Art as part of an International Festival of Arts and Ideas event about the merging of art and science. Click the video to watch a sample.

Yale’s Sarah Demers, the physicist, and Emily Coates, the choreographer, form one of seven pairs of artists and scientists brought together by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s “Reintegrate” venture. Each team received $10,000 to complete a seven-month collaboration combining both members’ disciplines.

On Wednesday, the teams presented their results and took part in a panel discussion moderated by science writer Carl Zimmer.

The event offered a view of the relationship between science and art, two worlds that can be light years apart—or just a dance step away.

Demers and Coates took the stage standing side by side. Demers said she studies the Higgs boson, one of the tiniest particles of matter. In trying to find common ground with Demers, Coates was initially stumped, she said.

“We can’t dance at the speed of light. Nor can we replicate subatomic behavior.”

Together the pair went to CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, in Switzerland. While they interviewed physicists there, the common ground emerged—the human body.

“No one can talk about the Higgs with their hands in their pockets,” Coates observed. She found the scientists were almost unconsciously resorting to the language of dance to communicate the physical properties of the Higgs boson.

“We both embody our knowledge,” Coates said.

Demers and Coates filmed scientists speaking about the Higgs boson and used their gestures to choreograph dance movements.

Demers and Coates are working on the final product of their collaboration, which will include videos, still images, “a dance of some kind at some uncertain moment in the future,” and an interactive workshop at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Income Gap Becomes A Cliff

Other pairs worked in a way that scientists and artists have in the past: finding new ways to visualize data.

Geographer Patrick Heidkamp and sculptor Jeff Slomba, both of whom teach at Southern Connecticut State University, teamed up to find new ways to represent data on median household income in a physical, tactile fashion.

They worked on a concrete-cast map of Connecticut, with the wealthier counties elevated, and the poorer counties sunken. As the concrete came out of the mold, it cracked between Fairfield and New Haven counties, significantly.

The pair’s next goal is to make a city-level map-sculpture of income levels. They showed a computer rendering of what it would look like, with some town shooting up while the state’s cities plummet.

Another geography-focused pair, New Haven author Andrew Bardin Williams and Winsconsin geographer Kathleen Colin Williams created an interactive crowd-sourced map connecting real-world locations with their depictions in literature.

Check it out here. Click on the book icon on top of East Rock to learn how the main character in “The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman” comes to understand what it means to be from New Haven.

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